Do you know the Lake District, Cumbria UK? If so, you probably think of mountains, lakes, poets – and possibly a drop of rain! Well, there is a whole lot more to it than that, and you can experience the full-on quirkiness that the area can offer at Cumbria’s annual Chilli Fest …
This year it takes place on 14th & 15th August within the grounds of historic Levens Hall, just outside Kendal www.levenshall.co.uk Levens Hall is famous for one of the oldest Topiary Gardens in the world. This Grade I-listed garden dates from 1694, surviving in its original design. The topiary is some of the oldest in the world and justifiably famous. This historic garden also incorporates a small orchard of apple trees and medlars, a nuttery, herb garden and croquet lawn – all very English.
Last year I went along with my son Alex, 12 and his mate Charlie. We met up with some friends, including Annie Weir and family, including Hugo over from Mexico. They were really intrigued with the idea of Chilli Festival in Cumbria …
One of our favourite attractions was Chilli Roulette – Spin the wheel and have a 1-in-6 chance of getting a chilli choc instead of a milk choc. Alex was first up – and guess what … his expression says it all!
There were loads of great stalls selling every kind of chilli flavoured produce you could imagine, including jams, chutneys, crisps, nuts, and, of course, mind-boggling hot sauces. We all had great fun tasting different ones and I bought a bottle of yummy Smoky Chipotle Sauce from the lovely guys at the ‘Trees Can’t Dance’ stand. There were plenty of other attractions including Salsa dancing, a Mexican band, Puppet show, Cookery Demos and talks about the House & Grounds.
We had our lunch in the Topiary Garden and enjoyed a great view of the Hall, imagining ourselves back in Stuart times. There is a children’s adventure playground, which is suitable for younger ones, and the most beautiful walks where you can admire the really creative planting and colour schemes. Chris Crowder, Head Gardener, said that they aim to keep colour and form throughout the year, using a simple color palette and lots of plants with strong structure for variety.
In the afternoon I left the others to have a quick look round the house. The medieval pele tower was incorporated into a beautiful gentleman's residence in the 1590s. The Hall has some really interesting things to look at: I especially enjoyed the quirky cabinets full of unusual objects, including a lot of Wellington memorabilia, Coronation robes for George IV and the earliest English patchwork quilt, old clocks and – the Bleeding Chair … you’ll have to visit to find out what that is!
We went home with lots of spicy sauces, a sombero (now why did we buy that?) and a desire for some chilli con carne and a cold beer …
The Chilli Fest happens annually and Levens Hall is open from Spring until October each year.